A punchboard is a game board, primarily consisting of a number of holes which was used once for lottery playings.
Punchboards were originally used in the eighteenth century for gambling purposes. A local tavern owner would constuct a game board out of wood, drill small holes in it, and fill each hole with a small piece of paper. After a patron buyes the punchboard, he would puncture one of the holes in the paper with a nail. If the game piece contained a winning number, the patron won the prize.
Decline in use
In the nineteenth century, gamblers eventually drilled into their own holes (they knew where the big money was, because they made the board). The punchboard’s use started to decline.
In the late 1800s, a new type of punchboard was introduced. This one involved putting paper in both the front and back of the hole (to help prevent operators from cheating). These new punchboards became popular to buy at drugstores, and they were sold with a metal stylus. The punchboard soon became increasingly similar to today’s lottery tickets.
Soon, the punchboard became cheap and easy to assemble, and the industry flourished. Noted gambling author John Scarne estimates that 30 million punchboards were sold in the years between 1910 to 1915. He also estimates that 50 million punchboards were sold in 1939 alone, during the peak of their popularity.
After the war
After World War II, use of the punchboard as a gambling tool began to decline because many people started to frown at its gambling-like nature, and the punchboard was outlawed in many states. However, the use of punchboards for advertisement were starting to gain popularity. Many companies started hiding goods such as bottles of beer and cigarettes inside punchboards. Zippo lighters reportedly sold more than 300,000 lighters through punchboard advertising between 1934 and 1940.
People have been cheating on punchboards ever since they were first invented. Many operators know where the big prize holes are; they used to create punchboards with very few holes so they could easily track the big money.
Other gamblers could make a dirty deal with the costumers: give the costumer a “map” of where the big prizes are on the punchboard. This came to prevention by the use of serial numbers: the costumer would present the slip to the operator, and if the serial numbers matched, the costumer was declared a winner.
Other references in popular culture
The movie The Flim-Flam Man starring George C. Scott involved the use of illegal gambling through punchboards.